A Saudi secondary school teacher has been ordered imprisoned for three years for blasphemy, and sentenced to 750 lashes, to be delivered—50 a week—in the public market of the town of al-Bikeriya. Chemistry teacher Muhammad al-Harbi of Qassim province was charged with mocking Islam, favoring Jews and Christians, promoting “dubious ideologies,” and studying witchcraft. The judge in the case, Abdullah Dakhil, reportedly accused the teacher of “trying to sow doubt in a student’s creed.” The charges were filed against him by a group of students and teachers from his school.
Al-Harbi told Saudi newspaper Arab News in a phone interview that the students who reported him had all failed the monthly chemistry test and complained to the school principal when he refused to let them take the exam again.
Al-Harbi said they were encouraged to report him by some Islamic studies teachers at the school, who were angry that he had taken it on himself to warn students of terrorism and extremism following the attack on the Al-Hamra residential compound in Riyadh in 2003. After being appointed school activities organizer he held talks with students speaking against terrorism and hung anti-terrorism signs around the school.
“The Ministry of Education has recently ordered all schools to lecture students on the danger of extremism and terrorism in general, but I was a step ahead of their decision,” he told the newspaper.
Al-Harbi’s lawyer, Abdul Rahman al-Lahem, told Arab News the sentence was illegal, as sacrilege charges must be heard in a special religious court. He also said the defendant had not been given the chance to interrogate the witnesses, and the court had refused to recognize him as the defendant’s lawyer. Al-Lahem said he would now appeal the sentence. (BBC, Nov. 17; HRW, Nov. 16; AKI, Nov. 14)